I’m surprised that it took me until early this week to hear about this story, because it does appear that it was covered by several media outlets. But here we are. I only heard on the September 19th edition of The Daily Show that Manatee County in Florida fucked up with its ASL interpretation during a televised press conference designed to get evacuation information out to citizens just before Hurricane Irma hit.
Content Note: Ableism, Weather Emergency, Emergency Planning, Privilege, Classism, Disrespect, PWD as an afterthought
Image Description: Young white woman wearing a orange shirt holds her hands in front of her, just above chest level, palms facing her with her thumbs up and fingertips almost touching. Her nail polish is orange, and her hair is strawberry blonde. She is smiling.
It’s this sort of thing that makes disabled people one of the most vulnerable groups in America when it comes to weather emergencies, as I’ve written about before.
The issue isn’t that Manatee County didn’t think about providing ASL interpretation, as you can see in this video. The person who uploaded this video captioned it with what the interpreter is signing, and I think it’s clear what the main issue is.
But for those who don’t want to/can’t watch the video…the issues are:
- The interpreter’s bright yellow shirt makes it very difficult to see what his hands are doing
- The interpreter signed nonsense words like “pizza” and “bear monster”, and some signing was just gibberish. A transcription provided by Clemson University Professor Jason Hurdich revealed that the interpreter at one point signed, “Help you at that time too use bear big.”
- The interpreter isn’t actually a qualified interpreter. When all of this was investigated, it turned out that while he does know a few signs because he has a Deaf family member, he’s a lifeguard with no certifications in ASL interpretation. He stepped in for the County for this event, and for another one later in the day, because officials were having trouble finding a certified interpreter.
This is unacceptable and infuriating, for a few reasons.
Certified interpreters were available. Florida Governor Rick Scott used interpreter Sam Harris:
Sarasota County also used a qualified interpreter at its news conferences.
VisCom, a company that has provided Manatee County with interpreters in the past, wasn’t called about providing services for Hurricane Irma communications. Charlene McCarthy, the founder of VisCom, had offered to send in an interpreter for a September 9 press conference in Manatee County, but her offer was declined; no interpreter was used for that press conference.
For some reason, Manatee County decided not to use an interpreter. It’s not as if no one was anticipating the need for a press conference; the media started talking about Irma and where she would at least potentially hit just after Hurricane Harvey landed.
Meet Me At Camera Three, Manatee County Administration
All this brings one word to mind: afterthought. Deaf and hard-of-hearing people were an afterthought as you prepared to get potentially life-and-death information to your residents about a weather emergency. Think about what it must feel like to know you’re an afterthought.
It’s this half-ass attitude toward accessibility that continues to give disabled people the impression that their communities of residence don’t value their money, skills, desire to give back to their communities, or (in this case) even their lives. Go ahead and deny that this was the message you meant to send, Manatee County – it’s the message that you *did* send, with your failure to take simple steps to ensure that Deaf and hard-of-hearing people in your communities got the same access to the life-and-death press conference information that hearing people did.
You owe your Deaf and hard-of-hearing communities an apology, and a promise that this won’t happen again.
And for Those of You Who’d Tell Me…
You know who you are, you keyboard warriors.
Yes, you. The ones making comments like these on the internet coverage:
- “ Deaf people activate CLOSED CAPTIONING on their tv sets. I guess numbnuts in government and around the country are unaware of that secretive tidbit of information. They also get text messages, emails, instant messages and communications from each other/family and read local news. They can translate audio to text. It’s not like a reeetarded interpreter is their only source in the year 2017. Duhhh“
- “I think what is shocking is that in 2017, taxpayers have to pay for that nonsense. they practically give away voice to text software, and there are plenty of free apps that would instantaneously give the devil a much more complete picture of what the officials are saying…Shameful waste of money.”
- “Considering the few people who require this, it was a waste of time anyhow”
- “Reminds me of the fake sign language interpreter at Nelson Mandela’s Memorial, standing right next to Barry O and flailing about – that was quality comedy!”
Listen, folks. There are whole bunch of reasons why these comments are disgusting, but I don’t even need to get into them, because they’re all invalid for one, simple, legal reason:
Accessibility is the law, and it’s been that way in America for 27 years. End of story.
But the fact that people felt comfortable letting fly with that sort of ableist (not to mention classist, in some cases) shit in the comments section of a story about how Manatee County’s lack of preparation meant that a group of disabled people didn’t get emergency information about a Category 5 hurricane….well, it made me feel ill. I wanted to draw some attention to it.
That sort of willful ignorance about the challenges that disabled face from the people in their communities – well, it’s beyond disappointing. It’s gross, really.
Seriously, America. Grow up.
Canada continues to send its thoughts and prayers for those affected by the recent hurricanes…